Thursday, October 16, 2003

Kroger gives away what it can't sell

By Jennifer Bundy
The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kroger stores in West Virginia are donating perishable food to hunger relief agencies and will continue to do so as long as workers are on strike, a company official said Wednesday.

"The primary thing we did in our stores yesterday was to take stock of what was out of date and what was sellable," said Archie Fralin, a spokesman for Kroger's mid-Atlantic region in Roanoke, Va.

Items being donated include eggs, dairy products, meat and produce. The agencies receiving the food are picking it up. Pickets have not interfered, Fralin said.

Anything that will expire within 10 days will be donated, a process that began Tuesday, the first full day of a strike at 44 Kroger supermarkets in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

Kroger closed all 44 stores and said they would remain closed until the labor dispute is resolved. The Ohio stores are in Belpre, Gallipolis, Marietta, Pomeroy and Proctorville.

More than 3,300 members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 walked off the job Monday night after rejecting what Fralin has called Cincinnati-based Kroger's "last, best and final offer."

Kroger stores routinely donate food that is about to expire to hunger relief agencies, Fralin said.

If the strike continues, managers will continue to donate food that is about to expire.

The value of the food being given away at each location varies. The overall cost of the strike to the company will not be determined until the strike ends, Fralin said.

No talks have been scheduled.

A union official said striking workers are happy the food is being donated to people who need it.

"It tickles me to death they want to do that rather than throw it in the Dumpster," said Nelson Graham, regional coordinator for the union. "What I would be happier to see is the company come back to the table and give people a fair contract."

Union members say they would have had to pay more for health care or suffer cuts in benefits under Kroger's proposal.

Kroger proposed an 8 percent, or $9 million, increase in what it pays into a health and welfare fund administered by a third party on behalf of the company and union. An independent actuary determined the fund needs an additional $29 million, union officials say.

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